Last weekend, I took myself on a little miniature tour through Tennessee. As with all things in my life, it was a whirlwind.

Initially, this entire trip was planned around attending the Behind the Mask Author Event. I had never previously done a mass book signing event, so when the organizer invited me, I figured, why not? I might as well try it out, investigate and experiment for myself. I selected this particular event because it was located in Nashville, so I could pair it with a visit to Chattanooga.

I lived in Chattanooga for about five years. It has now been five years since I returned home to Colorado. We moved for my husband’s job. I briefly deployed to Iraq with my job then returned to working from our new home, knowing no one. Eventually, by several clever turns of fate, I found the morbid cabaret belly dance troupe (yes, such a thing does miraculously exist) the Corpsewax Dollies. These girls became my community, and dancing with them became my passion.

I leaped at the chance to pair an author event with a more nostalgic visit. Plus, having that time with the Dollies served as a safety net. Even if the signing was a complete, depressing bust, the trip would not have been for nothing. The Dollies then sweetened the deal by planning a show for me to perform in with them and allowed me to dance as my own serial killer Emma (from The Rest Will Come).

Undoubtedly, I have missed the Dollies themselves the most. The sisterhood, the community, their devilishly individual personalities. Yet the lack of the stage and performing in my life has also left a vacancy. A vacancy I never really confronted since I have not performed with them in five years (since my farewell show) and have only done haflas with the teachers I have taken up with back in Colorado. My performance life was never grand or exceptionally successful, but there is simply something different about dancing on a stage versus dancing in a classroom.

Between the book signing in Nashville and performing in Chattanooga, the trip became something of a mini author/dancer tour.

I flew into Nashville on Thursday night. The travel in itself was quite the adventure. I ended up stuck in traffic mere miles from the Denver airport when a truck ahead of us overturned. Then I spent almost two hours on the tarmac waiting for the plane to be deiced. Once we actually flew and landed, the Nashville baggage throwers jammed the carousel with our bags. A semi trailer blazed in full flames on my drive down to Chattanooga in the fog. A surreal comedy of minor errors.

But I did make it.

Even from the first steps off the plane, things felt very strange on this trip. When we lived in Tennessee and traveled, my husband used to say that the minute we hit Tennessee airspace, my disposition changed (read: I became a bitch). In this same way, when I exited the airport, it felt almost as if I had never left, as if I hadn’t left a life in Colorado to return. I have returned to Tennessee before this, and it has felt like picking up where I left off, but nothing like this amnesic feel. However, I dismissed it and carried on.

On my first day back in the Dirty South, I met my first and former running mate (the Dolly I was staying with) on the Riverwalk for a run. After I had my daughter, she had been the unfortunate victim who took up running with me. We spent countless mornings and an untold sum of hours jogging up and down that riverwalk. In the dark. In the rain. In the heat. Like dance with the Dollies, the activity became foundational. Running remains so for me now.

After the run, I met with Ricky Davis of TRD Photography to get new author headshots. After all, I have not been orange for some time now, so my current ones seem a bit like a lie. I figured might as well get them refreshed with a photographer I knew from back when I utterly sucked at “modeling.”

That night, dress rehearsal. Back in the studio with the Dollies preparing for the show, just like old times. The experience was strangely gut-wrenching. Simultaneously, I felt the vivid joy at being back and the searing pain at knowing it was fleeting. I felt welcomed and included yet inevitably on the outside. The contrast, the duality was visceral. I couldn’t stop smiling, and I also wanted to cry. I simply savored every moment of it.

Saturday was the epicenter of the trip, the author event itself. One Dolly and I got up painfully early and drove back to Nashville. Navigating the venue and parking and unpacking and locating the event was laughable clusterfuck, but, again, we made it. She was instrumental in getting me where I needed to be, especially when I kept sending her back to the car for everything I forgot.

When we walked in to the ballroom and looked over the other tables, I knew I did not belong at this event. Most tables boasted huge standing signs advertising the author’s name. From the macro pictures of chiseled male abdomens and pink calligraphy of the font on these signs, from the chapstick lined up and chocolate strewn over the tables, I knew I had stepped out of my genre. Somehow, I had ended up at a romance author book signing.

One might argue that The Rest Will Come is a dark romantic comedy. One could say that sexual tension is at the root of Savages. One might even try to argue that The Waning offers an extremely twisted love story. I would say that a romance reader would not agree on any of these points. I knew I was incongruent; I just did not know if it would be a good thing to stand out or not. I did not know what to expect from any of it.

In the morning, the readers steadily trickled through. I sold a book here or there. Many potential customers wrinkled their noses and walked faster once they realized that horror graced my table. I did have some delightful conversations regardless.

The crowd dwindled around lunch time, and instead, restless authors began roaming the booths. These romance authors seemed quite excited about what I offered in The Rest Will Come. I ended up selling more books to other attending authors or their support crews than any person who bought a ticket.

The afternoon monotony was salvaged by the arrival of more Dollies. They arrived to buy a good chunk of my books and keep me company. By this point, authors had abandoned all professionalism, walking between booths to talk other events, drinking bottles of wine or eating at their tables. I elected not to wander but still connected to a few kindred spirits and was annoyed by others.

The book signing event finally rounded to a anticlimactic close; however, it went better than I anticipated. Not as well as I could have hoped or dreamed, but I ended up selling about half of my books, enough to not have to ship them home. I had feared I would not sell a single book, so I considered this result a win.

The Dollies and I retired to our hotel room to drink and prepare for the masquerade ball that was a part of the author event.

The masquerade ball was terrible. We arrived an hour late to find less than ten people sitting idle at tables in the dark, barely even speaking. The provided food was minuscule, and the drinks were grievously overpriced. We ate the miniature food and had a weak drink. We watched the DJ fail at enlivening the crowd. By the time we bailed, there were maybe 20-30 people there, but the entire thing felt like a flat wedding reception. Free booze and sleep at the hotel was much more appealing.

Sunday, back to Chattanooga! Admittedly, my brain was a bit raw from the event. After so much unknown and anticipation to see if it would break my author heart, I felt overstimulated, maybe emotionally hungover. Then, I also spent some time driving around the city by myself, which allowed strange feelings to swell over me. The nostalgia became paralytic at times. In the quiet, I was confronted by shapeless emotions I had not anticipated. I did not know how I felt, only that I felt. A lot.

Yet there was no time for all that. Sunday night was the show.

This serial killer show was held at the same venue where I participated in the majority of performances during my time. Despite the name change and some fresh paint, it remained largely unchanged. Once again, this was somehow both comforting and upsetting, forcing my mind to awkwardly straddle the past and the present.

After crawling into someone’s head to craft the character of Emma, it was ridiculously fun to pick a dark anthem for her then fetish her up into a costume. I ended up looking like some gothic lumberjack with a bloody shovel, but I don’t think I would have cast her any other way as a Dolly. With my bloody shovel, I danced to a solo I choreographed myself. More nerve-wracking than dancing to someone else’s!

It was a blast. All of it. I managed to not completely mangle the dances I was in, even those learned over a tiny screen and Google Hangouts. Even if I did mess up, I didn’t care. I just laughed and kept dancing, kept watching, kept cheering.

Afterwards, the Dollies put on a fire show in the parking lot. I definitely wish I had been around when they started playing with fire. It was amazing to watch.

Then it was tearful goodbyes in the parking lot and a midnight run to Waffle House.

On Monday, it was over. All the Dollies were at work and back at their lives as I packed myself up and headed back to the Nashville airport. From the moment I woke up (after not much sleep), my head was an absolute disaster. Though I had imbibed the night before, I do not think I was hungover. I managed to rouse with zero physical symptoms, and I did not feel drunk at the time. However, my memories for the previous night were scattered and fractured. I would say definitely drunk except this effected lasted until I napped on the plane.

This oddity was unnerving in itself, but it was also coupled with the most crippling depression I have felt in months. The emotional surge went so far as to affect me physically. I felt like I could not breathe, like I should not move. This is not entirely unfamiliar, but it has been so long since the depression reached so deep. Again, this could be attributed to alcohol, but it hinted once I hit Nashville and had no accompanying hangover.

I drove past my old house and managed to make it worse. I am not sure why. I miss the Dollies, but I do not think I miss living in the South or that house in particular. Though my husband and I had my daughter and became a family there. Perhaps it was the swell of memories on a vulnerable mind. Perhaps it was that many of those memories are edged in pain and depression akin to what I was feeling. I cannot accurately say because my mind’s narrative was so splintered as I was experiencing it.

Whatever was happening made my travel home excruciating. The logistics themselves were fine. I arrived to the airport early. My flight was on time. I had a lovely friend willing to pick me up. All of that was easy, but my experience of it was terrible. I felt like I was barely holding it together the entire time.

Again, I am honestly not sure why. I used to feel somewhat similar (turned WAY down) when I would visit Colorado while living in Tennessee. I have returned to the Dollies before and do always feel these feelings (turned WAY down). I don’t have an explanation as to why emotions ran so high this time. Did I dissociate? Did I depersonalize? What happened? I only know it has taken me almost four days to resurface.

All told, the trip was a rollercoaster. Emotionally more than anything. Yet I would not trade a single moment. Even the darkest moments made the pleasant ones burns all the more bright. I am still glowing. And maybe crying too.

As far as authoring, I think I learned some valuable lessons. My first publishing contract included a marketing class, to teach us to sell our own books. One basic premise was to not do BOOK things. Don’t do book events or book venues or anything centered around books. The idea being that you place yourself in direct competition with other books. Instead, it would be more advantageous to be the only book where your target audience might be.

After this experience, I can see it. I think I agree completely. But I needed to try it. I needed to experience it and learn for myself. Now, I know. Now, I have other ideas of what to do and try.

Tennessee the mini tour, totally worth it.

Christina Bergling
  1. Spooky says:

    Maybe cuz youve met meeeeee muhahahahahahahaha (come back)

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